Have you ever wondered why certain extremely intelligent and well educated individuals, with impressive advanced degrees, often appear to be somewhat ignorant, continuously making decisions that appear incredulous? Simply explained, there is a big difference between “book smarts” and “street smarts,” and while people may be well educated, it doesn’t always make them smart. Paul Simon addressed that fact in his song “Kodachrome,” with the verse, “But my life of education hasn’t hurt me none. I can read the writing on the wall.” However, I feel that the brilliant Albert Einstein best described what education is really all about when he wrote, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learned in school.”
1. This seeming contradiction between book and street smarts often arises when one evaluates organizational leadership. Many of the organizations I have consulted to in the last more than three decades have continuously elected extremely well educated individuals to be their leaders. Unfortunately, many of these individuals lacked many of the traits and qualifications that makes one an effective leader, and thus often did less than a stellar job in that position. Perhaps surprisingly (or maybe not), I often found it far more challenging to bring these “book smart” leaders up to a more satisfactory level, while others with less academic accolades, often out- performed them. I believe that many times those who have achieved success and excelled academically in their own fields often become somewhat arrogant, believing because of their advanced degree and academic superiority, that they did not need to listen to someone else regarding their suggestions. Since so much about being an effective leader is about attitude, human (people) skills, and integrity, as well as using specific related experiences to gain essential expertise, often that life of education does not translate directly to effective leadership.
2. Few people actually end up doing their life’s work in the industry that they majored in college, as few philosophy majors become career philosophers, and only a small percentage of psychology majors ever end up being psychologists, etc. True education is using all skills acquired, which include skills and knowledge explained from books, but predominantly comes from life experiences.
However, life experiences themselves are not educational unless someone actually learns lessons from those experiences. Have you ever wondered why so many people who have experiences never become true experts? The fact is that it depends on how one handles experiences, what he learns from those experiences, how he uses them, and whether or not they were positive experiences. I have met many people in my over 30 years in the events industry who have told me they knew what they were doing because they were “experienced” who garnered little expertise because, just as the athlete who practices with poor form (and thus never achieves his potential), also did not learn from those experiences enough practical and essential information to gain enough real and practical expertise.